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BYU students turn garbage into fuel

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PROVO -- In the movie back to the future, Doc turns garbage into fuel for his car. It's not all that unrealistic anymore. BYU students looking at new forms of energy are developing ways to take everyday yard waste and turn it into fuel.

MacKenzie Mayo is using hydrogen peroxide and ultraviolet light to pre-treat yard waste so it can be turned into fuel in the form of methane gas.

"We feed these grass clippings or sawdust or whatever to bacteria," Mayo said. The bacteria then digest the biomass and convert it into usable fuel. Because this process is sometimes slow and not all of the biomass is converted, finding a way to improve the results is essential. Treating the waste with hydrogen peroxide and UV light helps speed the process and make it more efficient.

Mayo is a chemistry major and an undergraduate. But despite her relative scientific inexperience, she is the lead author of an article on this process that was recently published in the journal Transactions of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. That's fairly rare for an undergraduate.

This technology is already being developed by Mayo's professor, Jaron Hansen. Mayo's contribution is to refine and perfect the concentrations of hydrogen peroxide and UV light required to process a specific material.

There are other benefits to using this system as well - it's non-toxic. The peroxide is converted to water when applied to the waste.

"That's one of the advantages to using this kind of pretreatment. A lot of other treatments leave some toxic waste," Mayo said in a statement.

So someday in a roundabout way we could mow the lawn and the grass clippings could be changed back into fuel for the lawnmower.

"The thing that gets me most excited is the fact that this is a renewable energy source," she said. "I feel like I have a responsibility to figure out how to live more sustainably and be cleaner with the energy we use."


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Randall Jeppesen and Dave Newlin


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